Are There Too Few Chinese Translations Published?

The Los Angeles Review of Books has an interesting interview with Chinese translator and all-around Chinese literature specialist Brendan O’Kane. They get into a lot of stimulating territory (is Mo Yan a government stooge? did Gao Xingjian really deserve a Nobel? do Chinese authors get edited enough?), but one thing that caught my eye was O’Kane’s insistence that not nearly enough Chinese books are being translated:

Brendan O’Kane: I’d love to say that there had been a major shift, but I’m not really sure that there has — at least, not on the publishing side of things. There are more works in translation coming out now than there were before, but that’s a pretty low bar: Only 11* translations from Chinese were published in book form in the U.S. last year. That was actually down from the heady days of 2011, when a whopping 12 books came out. Literature in translation is always a hard sell for publishers in the English-speaking world, and Chinese literature in English translation hasn’t yet found its Haruki Murakami,or Italo Calvino in terms of influence and cachet, let alone its Stieg Larsson in terms of sales.

Per Chad Post’s translation database, the number for 2012 is actually 16, not 11, but that still sounds like a small amount for a nation of over a billion people. Is it? I’m not entirely sure. 16 translations ranks China as the tenth-most-translated nation for 2012, which isn’t too bad—it sits comfortably between Switzerland (#11) and Argentina (#9), although it’s a ways behind the #1 and #2 nations, France and Germany, with 44 and 40 translations, respectively. Of course, in order to evaluate that information, one would have to consider that there are probably a heck of a lot more German and French translators out there than there are Chinese, not to mention the healthy subsidies offered by those nations, as well as their effective lobbying efforts. (Having tried to wrest some useful information out of China’s booth at BEA, I can say that they still have quite a ways to go in that department.) So, in terms of global competitiveness and bang for the buck, China might be doing well. After all, compared to France and Germany, it is a relative newcomer.

Whether or not there are too few Chinese translations being published, the fact remains that in 2014 Two Lines Press will be adding to the pile: we’re publishing our first ever novel translated from the Chinese. It’s by Xu Zechen, who has racked up a slew of honors, it’s called Running Through Beijing, and it was a bestseller in China. Running is translated by the accomplished translator and writer Eric Abrahamsen of the excellent Paper Republic website (Abrahamsen also received an NEA grant to support the translation of this book).

We’ll have a lot more to say about this book in the future, but for now, here’s a look at the book’s cover:

October 15: The Genius of Clarice Lispector [Event]

I hope all the translation fans and lovers of great literature in the Bay Area can join us for this outstanding Clarice Lispector event we’re holding in conjunction with Litquake. Lispector is one of my favorite authors, and she has inspired all sorts of amazing creative types, from novelist Colm Tóibín to film director Pedro Almodóvar, and also the great Brazilian rock’n’roll artist Cazuza, who claimed to have read her Água Viva 111 times! (Even Jonathan Franzen loves her: you can see his rave on one of the new New Directions editions of her books.)

Blending the stream of conscious lyricism of Virginia Woolf with the dark, existential themes of Franz Kafka, Lispector’s novels have experienced a recent renaissance with five new translations, published last year to wide acclaim. For this event, we’re pairing two of Lispector’s translators with two acclaimed writers who love her work. It should be a memorable evening—admission is $10, a tiny price to pay to see all this brain wattage, and plus you even get a copy of Passageways for free with each ticket!

Pre-order your ticket to make sure you don’t miss out!

Here are the details:

  • October 15
  • Hotel Rex
  • Doors 6:00pm, events 6:30
  • Tickets $10 (free copy of Two Lines Press’s book Passageways with each paid ticket)

And here’s the talent:

Idra Novey is the author of Exit, Civilian, selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series and named a Best Book of 2012 by Coldfront and The Volta. She is also the author of The Next Country, a finalist for the 2008 Foreword Book of the Year Award in poetry and a forthcoming collection Clarice: The Visitor in 2014. Her most recent translations include Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion According to G.H.

Hector Tobar is the author of three books, most recently the novel The Barbarian Nurseries published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and named a New York Times Notable Book. For two decades he’s worked for the Los Angeles Times: as a city reporter, national and foreign correspondent (on assignments from from East Los Angeles to Iraq), and was part of the reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1992 L.A. riots. He is also the author of Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States and The Tattooed Soldier, a novel, which was a finalist for the PEN USA West award for fiction.

Micheline Aharonian Marcom has published five novels, including a trilogy of books about the Armenian genocide and its aftermath in the 20th century. She has received fellowships and awards from the Lannan Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the US Artists’ Foundation. Her first novel, Three Apples Fell from Heaven, was a New York Times Notable Book and Runner-Up for the PEN/Hemingway Award for First Fiction. Her second novel, The Daydreaming Boy, won the PEN/USA Award for Fiction.

Katrina Dodson is currently translating The Collected Stories of Clarice Lispector, forthcoming from New Directions in 2014. Her translations and writing have appeared in Granta, Two Lines, and McSweeney’s. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is writing a dissertation on Elizabeth Bishop, Clarice Lispector, and questions of geographical imagination.

(MODERATOR) CJ Evans is the editor of Two Line Press and the Literary Programs Manager for the Center for the Art of Translation. He is the author of the poetry collection A Penance and a chapbook, The Category of Outcast. He is the recipient of the 2013 Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship and a contributing editor for Tin House.